Wednesday, 15 June 2011

A Few Days in Florence

Following my return to Malta from Florence (Italy) yesterday afternoon, I kept thinking about the many differences that exist between Malta and most - if not all - of the other European countries. I am not referring only to culinary or to architectural differences; I am also talking about intellectual differences.

During the few days that I spent in Florence, I noticed that there were several bookshops that remained open until around 10pm. In Malta, most shops close at 7pm. The longer opening times of the Florentine bookshops fits perfectly well with the modern reality of countless individuals who might only have some free time to go book-shopping later on in the evening, after 7pm.

The bookshops that I saw in Florence dwarfed the ones in Malta. Indeed, there was so much to see that it was quite tempting to spend an hour or more just going through numerous books! The shops even had small seats so that customers could simply relax a bit whilst leafing through the pages of a chosen book.

Two other points that struck me were the books published by Italian academics regarding current events and the books about certain controversial issues. Starting with the first point, I was amazed to see that even though the fighting in Libya erupted only a few months ago, some Italian university lecturers have already published works focusing on the ongoing conflict and on the relationship between Libya and Italy. To my knowledge, not a single book has been written lately by a Maltese academic about the relationship between Malta and Libya. I have not seen a single book published by a Maltese scholar that attempts to analyse the present situation in Libya.

Turning to the second point, I came across books that shed light on topics that are not apparently given so much attention in Malta. One of the books I saw was called Sex and the Vatican. Written by Carmelo Abbate, an investigative journalist, the book focuses on gay and heterosexual priests who have struggled with the celibacy issue. Abbate's work includes accounts of priests who have had partners and even children. Another book which captured my attention was Cio' che credo (What I believe). The latter was authored by Hans Kung, a Swiss priest and theologian who has argued in favour of contraception (such as taking the pill) and against the concept of papal infallibility.

There were also several books that focused on gender issues, local as well as international politics, and so on. When seeing the titles of these books, it was interesting to note that different points of view would be present on the same shelf. Thus, if anyone was interested in acquiring more information about the many facets pertaining to a specific topic, it seemed easier to do this in a foreign bookshop than here.

On 12th June, my wife and I attended a brief organ concert held at the church of Santa Maria de' Ricci. Halfway through the concert, it started raining very heavily outside. After around thirty minutes, the concert came to an end and the person we had seen taking care of the church appeared on the altar dressed as a priest. We decided to attend Mass there.

The Mass was very different from the ones normally witnessed in Malta. Although there were less than 30 people inside the church, Fr Roberto Tassi addressed the participants as though they were family members. He interacted with the audience during a part of the Mass (he actually asked a question to one of the people present!), he provided information about the historical context during which various Bible passages were written, and he sat on a chair close to the participants whilst delivering the homily. When the time came to exchange messages of peace, he walked to the front of the altar so that all the participants could go to shake hands with him.

Once the service was over, my wife and I went to introduce ourselves to Fr Tassi. I told him that his style was very different from the one normally witnessed in Malta. I also talked to him about the recent divorce referendum and about how many representatives of the Church in Malta had acted towards those Catholics who wanted to vote in favour of divorce legislation. Fr Tassi challenged the notion that the early Christians were against divorce; he even stated that St Paul had actually written about the possibility of divorce in the light of certain circumstances. He added that when two people no longer want to live together and when such individuals actually hate each other, it is much better for them to go their separate ways rather than continue living together in misery.

Of course, Florence was not only about books, priests, and museums. As expected, the food was delicious! And there were so many beautiful shops, selling all sorts of things. There was also a Torture Museum (showing how people were tortured in Florence during the medieval period), but we did not go in since it looked quite disturbing.

Florence is definitely a place to visit!